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The Traveler Alone

I was going to write up a semi-serious post about how hard I've been ducking anxiety about this whole trip, including all last night on the plane and a large part of the day, but that's a serious post for another day. I'm in far better shape now, post nap, post learning the phrase "Ich spreche wenig Deutsche" (I speak LITTLE German), and post obtaining the internet. Traveling alone is hard; connectivity makes it easier.

I'm holed up in a pleasant hotel built on the cloister grounds of Hildegard's abbey (well, one of 'em; she founded two). I've bonded with my innkeeper, which makes me feel less lonely, too. Actually, he's wonderful, and copied for me a map of the original cloister (the hotel is on the cloister's old grounds), which is something I've been looking for!

Things I quite like about Germany:

Driving is FUN here. Traffic is so well regulated and the drivers are so good, that the break-neck speeds were not intimidating. People are impatient with hesitant driving (or bad driving), but you know, that's okay. I felt about a dozen times safer driving out of the Frankfurt airport than I do, say, on 696 heading out to Troy at home. I'm actually looking forward to the next Autobahn trip. My rental car is nothing to write home about, but it's tiny, and zippy thereby, so it's fine.

Coming out into the Rhine Valley was a revelatory experience not unlike the first time I saw the Yorkshire Dales. Only, with castles and monuments. Seriously, I came into the valley, and was like, "RHINE!" And it was all wide and pretty! I ended up in some crazy nature-preserve/orchard/cow pasture area, and walked around by the water, enjoying this happy accident, and thought THAT was cool before I drove onward to find this gorgeous, steep rocky hillside (does it qualify as a mountain?)--terraced, with puffs of white smoke billowing up in places, and dotted with a giant statue and a couple of castles. It was so randomly Gothick, and I totally fell in love.

I don't like not knowing the language. It bothers me far more than I'd have imagined, to be so hampered. I didn't think phrasebooks were so bad, but, no, they are. I wish I'd prepared more... but at the same time, I wasn't willing to prepare on a maybe, and that was the rub. And once I decided I was really coming over, I poured my concentration into Romanian, because there are fewer English speakers in Romania.

Hey, look, The IT Crowd in German! (Yes, I've had the TV on all evening while enjoying my connectivity, in hopes that I will absorb some German. I can pick up more than I could, which isn't saying much, and it's not helping me speak it, but oh, well. Es tut mir leid.) The thing I like most about all this dubbed TV is how close the voice actors match the original voices. It's stunningly good at times.

I was accosted by a little old lady in a parking garage today who went on a tirade in German--she was obviously confused about something, and I haltingly tried to tell her I didn't speak German, but I think instead I just asked if she spoke German, which she obviously did. She continued to pelt me with questions and observations while I stood there and stared at her, until my brain kicked into gear. I asked her in German if she spoke English. No! Well, a little, but no! (I understood this, at least, and she said it in German.) I asked her in French if she spoke French. "A little!" --she replied in German. We were both so flustered at this point, that the next conversation was a complete mishmash of English, French and German and I still have no idea what either of us actually said (except at one point she said, "stage 3" which actually helped clarify the whole situation). The gist of it was that she'd parked on level 3, and couldn't find her car. "C'est deux," I said, waving around us. The lightbulb went on over her head. She was on the wrong level! Her car was not missing!

I like seeing Heidi Klum advertising stuff in her native language. I don't know why.

I find it weird how many people who can identify me on sight as an American (or at least an English speaker)--and how many who can't. I would expect it to be all one way, but perhaps it's actually a learned skill to identify in that fashion, and not something that's so super-obvious.

Anyway, turns out the cable for my camera and my Kindle? Is just the cable for my Kindle. So no pics for now.

More later, and we can hope for more coherence at that time, as well!


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 19th, 2010 10:59 pm (UTC)
I wish I were there with you! I could translate!

I lived a year in Heidelberg, which is about an hour's train ride south of Frankfurt. And yes, Americans are usually easy to spot. Mostly it's the clothing, but it's also how we walk and gesture and smile.

And for a more idiomatic way to say, "I speak a little German," use "Ich kann ein bisschen Deutsch." (I can a little German.)
Nov. 20th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I'm not so fond of my phrasebook, actually, but it's what I've got.

Wish you were here, too!
Nov. 19th, 2010 11:04 pm (UTC)
Good job with the lady in the parking garage (what happened to her once happened to me--I thought I had gone crazy).

And it's funny-odd-stressful when people ask you for information in a language you can't speak. My one and only time in France, I was asked to take a couple's picture. Fortunately it's clear what's being asked in a situation like that. (Interestingly, someone also *offered* to take a picture, with lots of miming so I could get the gist.)
Nov. 20th, 2010 12:56 am (UTC)
You are my hero! One of the reasons I'm intimated by visiting other countries is the language barrier. Another is inadvertently breaking a law and being thrown into a foreign prison, but let's not talk about that, shall we?

One of my college roommates had a boyfriend who was fluent in German. He'd get drunk and recite love poems to my roomie in German. Not as hot as Italian, maybe, but still really cool.
Nov. 20th, 2010 03:11 am (UTC)
When I spent a month in Wessiling, which is between Cologne and Bonn, people usually assumed I was British, because they saw far more Brits than Americans.
Nov. 20th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
I'm getting a bit of Brit-assumption, too--after I struggle through buying something, people usually top it off with a "cheers". :)
Nov. 20th, 2010 03:43 am (UTC)
yay the Rhine! did you have wine on the Rhine?
Nov. 20th, 2010 06:28 am (UTC)
Germany may be the homeland of many of my ancestors, but it is the land of migraines for me. :-(
Nov. 20th, 2010 09:24 am (UTC)
Oh, I am jealous! I would love to be there. And I could do the German-speaking for us, in my fantasy! ;) Actually, the first time I ever went to Germany was when I was 17 and spoke no German at all. I was traveling with someone who did, but I got SO frustrated at never being able to communicate myself...and the bizarre miracle was that suddenly, about 5 days in, something in my brain gave a nearly audible CLICK! into position and I found myself speaking German, just from having spent the last several days hearing nothing else. (It was definitely pigeon German and ungrammatical, but it was an astonishing feeling - and made the rest of the trip SO much more fun.) I hope that happens for you, too!

And I can't wait to see the pictures.
Nov. 20th, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
It's happening a little, actually! Of course, it's beyond ungrammatical. But even thinking in English, my word order is changing. The weirdest part is not having the vocabulary. My brain makes up words. It's an interesting experience, and I should be writing it all down, because this has to be a useful experience for a second-world fantasy writer.
Nov. 20th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
I got into an elevator in Spain once and the elderly man standing inside asked me "Etage?" I was 15, and felt that it was amazing and magical of me to be able to conjure the French word for my floor, when I was so primed to be speaking to him in Spanish.

It was a long time ago now, but I found that Spaniards tended to guess I was German, then Scandinavian, then British. I've always gotten a kick out of being able to blend in a foreign country: I didn't wear sneakers, which, I was firmly told, only Americans would wear. That rule-of-thumb has long since changed.
Nov. 20th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
I do sometimes get identified on sight as an English speaker, but often not - which makes sense, given the number of immigrants here. (Also, we're close to the Belgian border, and Belgians often are shorter and darker than Dutch, though admittedly not to the degree I am.) What really surprises me, though, given the fluency in English of most people I talk to, is how often I get asked if I'm from England.

I do generally find a *lot* less English speakers in Germany than in the Netherlands.
Nov. 20th, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC)
I think it takes talent/a trained ear to really pick up an accent in a non-native language, especially between people who are fluent. I remember the first time I noticed an accent in French, and it blew me away. So, if you don't leave any visual cues that you're American...

I'm getting by here, but I really need to figure out how to politely indicate that I can't chitchat. Like. CAN'T. Apparently, my accent when I say I can't speak German is unconvincing. Maybe I need to Americanify it more. Or maybe it's human nature to just keep talking and it has nothing to do with how well I said I can't understand the language.

Edited at 2010-11-20 09:17 pm (UTC)
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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